About 400 students, campus faculty and community members filled the International House’s Chevron Auditorium on Thursday afternoon to hear U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro speak on affordable housing, homelessness and his political career.
The event, hosted by the Berkeley Forum, featured a number of questions from moderator Jackson Rigley on topics ranging from affirmative action and housing policy to the influence of Castro’s mother on his political career and his future political aspirations.
Castro also took questions from the audience that often focused on specific HUD policies and the discrimination of marginalized groups, including convicted felons, the homeless, the mentally ill and the LGBT community.
“Just about everything we do is aimed at providing more affordable housing and preserving affordable housing,” Castro said of HUD, which oversees the Federal Housing Administration and is responsible for a number of programs, including Community Development Block Grants and Section 8 housing vouchers.
Castro added that the Bay Area has severely felt the impact of a nationwide rental affordability crisis. Berkeley and the larger Bay Area are particularly affected because of enormous demand for housing caused, in part, by the technology boom, which has driven up rents and displaced low-income individuals and families from their houses and neighborhoods, according to Igor Tregub, vice chair of the city’s Housing Advisory Commission.
“This is no longer a crisis — this is a housing emergency,” Tregub said. “We’re losing the character that makes and has made Berkeley so special.”
While much of the hour-long event focused on affordable housing, Castro also emphasized his commitment to preventing housing discrimination, especially for those with past criminal convictions. He said HUD plans to end blanket restrictions prohibiting convicted felons from accessing Section 8 housing in favor of an approach that looks at each case individually.
“Housing has a role to play in criminal justice reform,” he said. “Housing is an indefensible part of that second chance.”
Castro also affirmed HUD’s commitment to the Obama administration’s response to the recently passed legislation in Mississippi and North Carolina — which removes anti-discrimination protections for members of the LGBT community — noting that what they have done is “a source of very deep concern.”
Several questions from the audience focused on homelessness, particularly among young people, veterans and members of the LGBT community. In response to the growing number of unsheltered homeless individuals in some cities across the nation, Castro noted that advocates and government officials should develop practical solutions to housing while addressing the reasons they are homeless.
When Rigley asked about the “elephant in the room,” referring to rumors of Castro’s consideration as a vice presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket, Castro replied that this was the first time since college that he did not know what he was going to be doing next year.
“We’ll see what happens. I’m open to different things,” he said. “I might run for another office.”